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Spring Notes: Win or “Win Now” For the Orioles?

As position players report and spring training gets underway in earnest, any outlook for the 2011 Orioles should include “finishing at or better than .500″ as a reasonable goal. That’s not an “If things break our way…” scenario as it has been in the recent past. This year it’s pretty much an expectation. The bar has been raised.

That’s a by-product of both a solid offseason and the fact that it came on the heels of hiring Buck Showalter, whose 1/3 season of leadership evinced impressive results. Small sample size though it is, there’s been a lot of progress since last July.

With that in mind, let’s consider a crazy question: are the Orioles built to “win now”?

Such designation is typically given to teams making a large bet on a single season. Teams seeking to move from “good” to “great.” That hardly describes the Orioles. And yet, I wonder.

There’s something about the signings of Vlad Guerrero and, to a lesser extent, Derrek Lee that suggests “win now.” After all, those guys are only here for one of two reasons: win this year or get traded for prospects. Neither of them figures into any kind of long-term plan.

MacPhail most likely treats every season as only what it is and looks to make moves to make the team successful. It’s worth noting, though, that this is the last year of his contract. Has he been quietly angling for something big? Might he think, on some level, that there’s a legitimate chance of this year’s team making a run?

Nobody knows for sure, save for Warehouse insiders and confidantes. But knowing only what I know, I’m intrigued.

Recall, for a moment, 2005. That was a damn fine Orioles team in the first half. A first-place team, in fact. They looked like they might make a serious run. Who knows what might have happened if the Rafael Palmeiro steroid scandal hadn’t derailed them.

This year’s team, on paper, is even better.

I’m not predicting a playoff run and I’m not predicting a repeat of the first half of 2005. But there is a potential here for something to take shape. Potential and two bucks buys whatever it buys, which isn’t much. Can’t ignore that. Still…

Do the folks who assembled this team know something we don’t? Could the Orioles be better than we expect, before we expect it?

11 comments to Spring Notes: Win or “Win Now” For the Orioles?

  • dan the man

    If I’m MacPhail, I’m basically thinking… I’ve got some holes that my prospects aren’t ready to fill yet and I’m able to get top-notch veteran talent on cheap, 1-year deals to fill those holes. In addition, those veterans are solid clubhouse guys who will be good for my young players. It gives Buck the competitive team he most likely was promised when he agreed to manage this team. It creates excitement and a winning atmosphere that is so important to the development of the young guys. In other words, it’s a perfect storm. Once the holes got filled, I wager Andy might have said, oh what the hell, let’s get Vlad and make this interesting. He may not have been thinking “win now”, but he wasn’t risking a whole lot by rolling the dice on Vlad. Anything can happen, honestly.

    And really, this is what winning teams are made of: good, young talent surrounded by steady, veteran talent. The only thing separating this team from the worst-to-first Rays is the rotation, which is only a question mark because we haven’t seen it yet. It could very well be as good as any Rays rotation that comes to mind if they all pitch up to their potential. In particular, I’m excited about Arrieta going into this year.

    As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been watching a game of last year’s Buck-ball each night over the past couple weeks. The pitching was really quite remarkable, and on paper, it’s upgraded going into this season. Bergesen’s 2-hit complete game win, the Angels sweep, Matusz winning virtually every game he started once Buck took over, Arrieta pitching like we all wished Penn could have when he came up. But Neal’s right – this is a better team than 2005. It’s a wear-you-out lineup with exciting young pitching and a deep bullpen. I’ll stick with the .500+ expectations, but stranger things have happened in baseball. MacPhail and Buck both have track records of building winners after all.

  • sci

    I think it was just MacPhail making the logical moves to fill positional gaps. Except Vlad. That was just for the hell of it, I think. I predict 80-82 wins, hovering right around .500, which will be OK with me. I do hope we cash in if Vlad or Lee has a huge year though and flip one or both for prospects at the trade deadline.

    In other news, daring us to hate him even more, Teixeira is playing the “Yanks are the underdogs” card this year. So sad that no one believes in them.

    http://sports.espn.go.com/new-york/mlb/news/story?id=6138531

  • Andrew

    The 2005 team was doomed from the get-go. The second half collapse was brutal, but a pretty typical case of “regression to the mean” as they say. You know who was the leader of that rotation? Bruce Chen. And Jorge Julio gave us over 70 innings. Other horrifying bullpen contributors: Steve Reed, Eric DuBose, and Steve Kline.

    That pitching staff was NEVER going to the playoffs. Not in a million, billion years. Which is too bad, since a lot of money had been put into building what had been a top 8 offense in ’04.

  • sci

    @ Andrew:
    Ahhh! Steve Klein! Nightmares…

  • dan the man

    I was hoping we’d sign Chen to a minor league deal and invite him to camp as a bullpen lefty. Just for kicks.

  • Miles

    Andrew wrote:

    Steve Reed, Eric DuBose, and Steve Kline.
    That pitching staff was NEVER going to the playoffs. Not in a million, billion years.

    GAHHH!!!! KLINER-SIXTY-NINER!!! EVIL! EVIL!

    The 2005 team had many other issues – let’s talk about how the record might have looked if anyone other than Maz had been the skipper.

    Or if Sidney Ponson had not gone drunk-driving (again).

    Or, hell, if the money we originally spent on Sir Sidney had gone towards another pitcher.

    As an aside, it’s hilarious to me to look at our 2005 starters and see that Sammy Sosa had the lowest OPS of the bunch.

  • neal s

    Adam Jones:

    “You walk into the clubhouse you can feel the vibe yourself right? I’ve never honestly walked into a clubhouse and felt that way until I walk[ed] in here. There’s a sense of pride. Everybody knows what’s at stake. We want to go out and stop getting our [butts] kicked and starting kicking people’s [butts]. Point blank.

    That’s what’s up.

  • dan the man

    @ neal s:
    Yeah, dude. Jones has had a few good ones so far. I feel bad for him sometimes because he doesn’t normally translate well to print and fans tend to get the wrong idea about him. But you read stuff like that and you listen to him speak on ESPN and you remember he’s one of your favorite Orioles. I hope he tears it up this year or is at least consistently Good throughout the year.

  • dan the man

    Check it out: this is my Grandfather’s baseball reference page: http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=vahill001joh

    Crazy!

  • Dan H

    Luke Scott needs a radio show.

    http://www.masnsports.com/school_of_roch/2011/02/guerrero-and-scott-take-their-cuts.html

    “It doesn’t just get slapped, it gets waffled.”

    Classic.